Highland Park 32 year old 1973 Vintage (Cask #8375), 41.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $350
An essay in elegance. Silky and soft in texture, and very clean. Notes of peaches and cream, vanilla wafer, soft honey and fruit gum drops. Subtler notes of tropical fruit (pineapple, lemon, coconut), demerara sugar, heather, and anise. Polished oak adds structure and contrast, with a very elegant finish. Hard to believe this whisky is 32 years old. It's lighter and more elegant than the equally splendid Highland Park 30 year old, which I rated a 94 in the last issue. (Bottled exclusively for Park Avenue Liquors.)
Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old Family Reserve, 53.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $50
Fully matured at 15 years, as you would expect. Lovely array of flavors: candied fruit, cinnamon, nutmeg, gritty oak resins, vanilla fudge, and firm corn. Underlying notes of tobacco and polished leather add complexity and intrigue without dominating, kissed with a touch of honey. A remarkable value, considering its age and strength.
Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old Family Reserve, 45.2%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90
Similar in many ways to the 15. Less vibrant, more mature. Less corn, more maple syrup. Less nutmeg, more teaberry. The most elegant, sexy and stylish of the three and the best dovetailing of flavors. You might think that $90 is a lot of money for bourbon, but this whiskey is fairly valued when compared to other spirits of this age.
Edradour Port Wood Finish, 1983 Vintage, Cask #04/0544, 52.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $195.00
One of the first wood finishing efforts under Edradour’s new management. Very creamy in texture, with notes of sticky toffee, vanilla fudge, fruit cake, raisin, and burnt almonds. All this sits on a bed of dry, minty, resinous oak. The flavors dovetail nicely, with a soothing, satisfying finish. The port wood finishing adds complexity without dominating.
One of Cooley’s finest efforts. Moderate doses of kiln smoke, dried turf, and kippers, tamed by vanilla cream, barley, and a buttery, olive oil texture. Subtle spices dance on the palate. Lingering smoky, white pepper finish. Islay meets Ireland.
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Bruichladdich) 34 year old 1969 Vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $234
An unusual, but very fine, Bruichladdich, with sweet, chewy toffee notes I often associate with Speyside whiskies, not Islay (although I have tasted a few older Bunnahabhain whiskies that were like this). Layers of marzipan and chocolate fudge also emerge, and I even pick up some apple and black cherry fruit in the background. Bruichladdich's "sea breeze" freshness rises through the chewy sweetness and provides balance and complexity.
For those of you drinking whisky long enough, it was a Glenmorangie Tain L’Hermitage 1978 Vintage that kick-started this whole exotic finish trend by Glenmorangie about 10 years ago. That one wasn’t sold here in the U.S., but this one is (although this one costs about four times as much as the original one did when it was released). Both were racked in used bourbon barrels before being finished in Hermitage red wine casks from northern Rhone. The best of these limited release Glenmorangies, like the Fino Sherry Finish expression several years ago, add complexity and intrigue without masking Glenmorangie’s lovely subtle complexity. This one does a pretty good job of it, although there’s a lot of fruit here (an obvious contribution of the wine). Complex fruit, with notes of plum, raspberry, nectarine, blueberries, and a hint of lemon. Underneath the fruit, there’s nougat, dark chocolate and cocoa. Towards the finish, the whisky becomes nicely dry with oak lingering on the palate.
Murray McDavid Mission IV (distilled at Highland Park) 1979 Vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $210
Clean and fragrant on the nose, with aromas of dried heather, germinating barley, and white chocolate. Soft, sweet malt along with honeycomb, crème brulee, and a hint of fruit puree. The palate is soothingly malty, delivering what the aroma promised (first the sweet notes, then dried heather and spice), with a dry, polished oak finish. The extra aging adds depth, and the cask was obviously a good one, with no hint of being tired or old.
Scott's Selection (distilled at Bruichladdich) 14 year old 1990 Vintage, 58.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $110
An excellent example of a younger Bruichladdich, and an interesting contrast to the Duncan Taylor expression reviewed above. Appetizing and very clean with a creamy texture. Honey and vanilla notes accentuate a fresh maltiness, with underlying marshmallow, grass and hay. The whisky finishes nicely rounded, pleasingly dry and salty, with a hint of seaweed. A great aperitif.
Similar in profile to the 12 year old expression below, except that the bouquet is thicker, the sweetness is more caramelized, and the fruit notes are drier (no surprises). There’s also more depth and maturity in this whisky, more oak spice, and a longer, drier finish. An excellent value!
A rounded and mature affair. The 25 years in oak has made it a bit more refined (and drier on the palate) compared to younger expressions. All the classic Caol Ila notes are stillthere-mustard, seaweed, olives, damp peat, salt and pepper. A touch of vanilla wafer, anise, smoked almonds, and tarry rope add complexity. Those of you who prefer Ardbeg 17 over the 10, and Laphroaig 15 over the 10, will be attracted to this whisky when compared to Caol Ila's younger siblings. But at $225, it's an expensive date, isn't it?
Youthful and very lively. Bold, crisp, spices (mint, cinnamon, vanilla) are softened by soothing, sweeter notes (candied fruit, coconut, caramel, and rum notes), becoming dry, flinty, and spicy on the finish. It is very clean and polished, and it is superior to other rye whiskeys in this age range. Nicely done!
Murray McDavid Mission IV (distilled at Linlithgow), 1975 Vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $210.00
One of the better bottlings from this Lowland distillery which closed in 1983. Velvety and slightly oily in texture, and fragrant. The whisky is balanced, the flavors clean, with no hint of excessive oak. Bourbon cask-aging offers up notes of vanilla wafer, along with coconut cream, honey, and a touch of caramel. Bright fruit (lemon meringue, pineapple, apricot) keeps the whisky lively, and suggestions of hay and linseed offer continued entertainment. Nutty, toasted oak finish. If you are looking for a Linlithgow (AKA St. Magdalene) to purchase before the whisky becomes impossible to find, I can recommend this one.
Scott's Selection 30 year old 1974 vintage (distilled at Macallan), 52.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $230
Quite fresh and lively for its age and loaded with fruit. You’ll find bright fruit (tangerine, passion fruit, lemon) followed by subtle, sweeter fruit (coconut, honeydew melon, banana, and apple crumb pie). Resinous, minty oak notes and a hefty viscosity give the whisky some structure, while floral notes (lavender, rose petals) and gentle vanilla expose a softer side to the whisky. Dry, oak finish.
Murray McDavid Mission IV (distilled at Glen Spey), 1974 Vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $210.00
Although this distillery is operating, it remains one of the hardest Speyside whiskies to find. This is unfortunate. A fairly straight-forward whisky-pleasingly malty and somewhat viscous on the palate, with some grassy notes. The extra years, with this particular bottling anyway, have allowed the whisky to blossom, become a little more intriguing and heavier. Along with malt and grassy notes, I’m picking up citrus fruit (especially on the nose), toffee, nuts, freshly ground roasted cocoa beans, nougat, and vanilla fudge.
Lovely balance on the nose and palate. Soft and gently textured, too. The sweetness of the whisky (honey, fruit gum drops, and malty vanilla), dovetail nicely with light, bright citrus and teasing dried spices. Heather/floral notes enhance the whisky’s complexity. Clean, delicately polished oak finish. A very versatile, inexpensive, easy-drinking whisky.
Murray McDavid Mission IV (distilled at Tomintoul) 1973 Vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $210
Fragrant and very clean. Gently sweet with notes of vanilla cream, ripe barley, fresh cut hay, sherbet (orange and lemon), and a hint of bourbon -especially on the finish. An enjoyable and undemanding whisky to drink when the whisky itself isn’t the main topic of conversation.
Highland Park 24 year old 1981 Vintage (Cask #3252), 45.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $180
A lush Highland Park, aged in a sherry cask. Ripe fruit (sultana, apricot, dark cherry pits), layers of sweetness (toffee, nougat, molasses) almonds, and juicy oak. Hints of vanilla cream, honey, heather and polished leather add dimension. This sherry contribution is clean, not overly sappy or waxy like others I have tasted. (Bottled exclusively for Binny's Beverage Depot.)
Signatory (distilled at Rosebank), 12 year old, 1991 Vintage, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $53.00
A gentle, pleasant dram. Quite floral, too. Soft, creamy vanilla foundation with a hint of marshmallow. Underlying notes of cut grass and linseed oil add texture and intrigue. Rosebank is a classic Lowlander and, given that the distillery closed in 1993, younger expressions will become more difficult to find (not to mention more expensive). Here’s a good whisky at a fair price.
A pleasure to drink, just like the 12 year old version that preceded it. A foundation of honeyed malt, with background vanilla, subtle cocoa, faint bourbon, salt, and diffuse spice on the palate. Light to medium in body, but fairly viscous in texture. However, a coastal freshness cuts through the viscosity, keeping the whisky lively. Some of the freshness of the previous 12 year old distillery bottling is sacrificed in exchange for more depth and fullness. It is neither better nor worse for this, just different.
Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old Family Reserve, 47.8%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $200
Broodingly thick and syrupy in texture, and quite dry-especially on the finish. Twenty-three years is a long time for bourbon to spend in oak, and this one shows its age. The flavors and complexity of its younger two siblings is evident until mid-palate, but then dwindles slightly as the whisky progresses, replaced by dry, spicy, leathery, sooty-charcoal, tobacco notes.
New packaging, new formulation, and even a new strength. The new packaging is more stylish, the new formulation is more approachable, as is the new strength (45% rather than 50.5%). The previous Russell’s Reserve was big and brooding, with huge flavors of chewy toffee, oak, leather, and tobacco. This new expression is more elegant, with lighter sugars (honey, cotton candy, caramel, maple syrup), more fruit (candied orange, pineapple, coconut), and creamy vanilla. A tame expression of Wild Turkey (although the flavors are nicely balanced and seamlessly tied together). Ideally, I would like to see the bourbon with the new formula but bottled at the old strength of 101 proof.
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Glentauchers), 14 year old, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $65.00
Fairly straight-forward but pleasing nonetheless. Creamy on the nose and palate. Nicely malty, too, with interwoven notes of vanilla, caramel custard, and hazelnut, offset nicely by dry oak spices and a hint of peat. A calming whisky best enjoyed after a very stressful day.
Murray McDavid Mission IV (distilled at Glendronach) 1974 Vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $210
An interesting whisky, with flavor notes I wouldn’t normally find together-golden raisins, green grapes, plum, citrus tang, fresh ginger, almonds, and a hint of mint leaves, all wrapped by a pleasing maltiness with underlying notes of vanilla custard. Fairly dry, slightly hot finish. Many of the Glendronachs (especially from the distillery) are sherried. Some of the sherried versions, like the 33 year old, are excellent. However, this is a refreshing change of pace. I’m glad they bottled it when they did though, as any additional oak dryness would be detrimental.
Pendleton 10 year old Blended Canadian Whisky, 40%
Canadian | $26
Fruity on the nose and palate (orange peel, lime, lemon, pineapple). Very smooth and creamy, too, with notes of vanilla and a touch of honey. Underlying brittle mint, delicate floral notes, and even a hint of sandalwood gives the whisky some dimension. Very clean and nicely rounded. The problem with many Canadian whiskies is that they are too harsh when young, but get too woody when aged for ten or more years, because they are too thin in body to stand up to the oak. This one has matured nicely while still maintaining good balance and drinkability.
The Classic Cask Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 21 year old, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $120.00
Chewy toffee and nougat, with some dusty corn notes along with minty rye and cinnamon. The whiskey’s fruit is subtle and subdued, finishing boldly dry with oaky vanilla and leather. Not as bright and intensely spicy as the Sazerac Rye 18 year old on the market, and it’s the antithesis of the younger Sazerac Rye 6 year old also reviewed in this Buyer’s Guide. An enjoyable, mature rye whiskey.
Murray McDavid Mission IV (distilled at Clynelish), 1976 Vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $210.00
Thick in texture and palate-coating. Ripe peaches and bananas, orange chocolate, English toffee, and a hint of damp oak on the nose. I can also detect brine, seaweed, peat smoke, and spice, but it’s a little clumsy. Same story on the palate. Not a bad whisky, but I expect more from Clynelish.
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Highland Park) 12 year old 1992 Vintage, 58.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $70
Medium-bodied but viscous in texture. Clearly aged in a bourbon cask-there's plenty of honeyed malt and vanilla throughout. Hints of bourbon even peek through occasionally, along with some subtle peat. Soft melon mid-palate yields to dried spice, sea salt, bitter chocolate and herbal notes on the finish. Fairly dry for a 12 year old-particularly on the finish. Best served as an aperitif.
Scott's Selection (distilled at Auchentoshan) 21 year old 1983 vintage, 52.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $145
Surprisingly thick and oily in texture for a Lowlander. There’s plenty of marshmallow, vanilla cream, and ripe barley, with interspersed cut grass, lemon, and mustard seed. Drying oak spice notes on the finish. Not as polished or refined as the distillery bottling of the same age, but it still has many redeeming qualities.
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Banff), 28 year old, 1976 vintage, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $150.00
Dominant notes of citrus (lemon, lime) and other tropical fruits (coconut, mango) on the nose. On the palate, the whisky is simple and uncomplicated. The entry is soft and malty, and then it becomes dry and gently oaky. Not overly inspiring, but those who purchase the whisky for its rarity value (the distillery closed in 1983), shouldn’t be discouraged from actually drinking the stuff some day.
There are three different Hirsch Canadian Whisky expressions: 8, 10, and 12 years old. The 8 year old is my pick of the three, with some creamy vanilla, biscuit, subtle caramel, and a hint of honey. The alcohol is quite dominant and the finish unrefined with solvent-like notes. The 10 and 12 year olds express less flavor complexity and are somewhat harsh on the finish. They’re not good enough to drink neat or on the rocks and too expensive to drink as a mixer ($38 for the 10 year old; $44 for the 12 year old.). Rating for the 10 year old: 72; rating for the 12 year old: 70.
Red Neck Riviera 'Southern Style' Blended Whiskey, 49.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $15.00
" Straight from them there oak cask barrels to this here bottle," the label reads. Light, gently sweet notes of vanilla and caramel corn are the core of this whiskey. Inter-dispersed notes of mint, charred oak, and candied fruit are also present. The label also states "Sure enough smooth." True, I have had harsher whiskeys, but I’ve also had many that were smoother -and within this price range. In fact, there are several bourbon whiskeys on the market at this price that are at least this smooth and with a lot more flavor.